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Video & RAM upgrade?
Old 03-23-2006, 12:58 PM   #1
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Video & RAM upgrade?

Last night the kid scored a "What are you saving it for?" point, and I've been persuaded to upgrade our computer with a video card & more RAM.

It's a cheap Compaq Presario with a 2.4 GHz AMD Athlon 64 and 512 MB memory. (I didn't really care about the features after seeing it on sale for $399.) The motherboard looks like a generic (ASUSTek "Salmon"?) with a 200 MHz bus, although I'm ignorant on how to determine whether there's a separate video bus. The current video is emulated in RAM to feed our two-year-old Sony 19" LCD monitor. The RAM is a single 512MB PC3200 stick and it looks like we have two RAM slots.

No one in the house is a power user. There's an occasional DVD played on the machine and perhaps a website's games, but no one does graphics work and we don't have any hardcore gamers here. I don't think the upgrade will make much of a difference but the video will probably refresh faster and the hard drive will thrash a little less. I'm more interested in promoting family harmony and in demonstrating the performance difference by having her do the work (as well as the before & after tests).

If we're gonna do the upgrade, though, I'd like to get a few years out of it and I'd like some bang for the buck. I already know how to install cards & RAM. I haven't done anything to this machine; I believe the last video card I owned was in the mid-'90s with maybe a whopping 2 MB of VRAM, and my last RAM upgrade was a couple years ago (on another computer) with two 256 MB sticks. So my standards are abysmally low and I'm easily pleased.

I'm not particularly price sensitive but I'm not sure that it's worth exceeding $400 total, although I could be mistaken. We'll probably be perfectly happy with whatever's in stock at the local computer store or reasonably shipped to Hawaii.

Any issues or recommendations?
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?
Old 03-23-2006, 01:04 PM   #2
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?

In short: dont bother.

512MB is enough for what you're doing. Onboard video is fine for what you do.

If you were doing large database work, working with 5+ applications concurrently and really using them concurrently, doing video format conversions, making dvd's...maybe the extra memory might help a little bit. maybe.

Going to a real video card, IF your mobo even supports it (is there a different looking 'slot' on the motherboard?), would be good for gaming...and...gaming...you might get a higher refresh rate or a more stable picture, but five bucks says you wouldnt notice the difference side by side unless what you have is really, really pathetically bad and considering its sporting a recent AMD chip...its probably not bad.
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?
Old 03-23-2006, 01:09 PM   #3
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?

I doubt if you are going to get much performance boost. You might try adding another 512 in the empty slot, change the desktop to some garish color and exclaim you got some kind of new video card. That should be dirt cheap and satisfy most users who have upgrade fever.
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?
Old 03-23-2006, 01:14 PM   #4
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?

If you're dead set on doing it, go to the bargain bin at the local computer store and try to find a $15-20 card based on the ATI 7000 or 9000 graphics processor. Those have dead stable clean video output and are regularly used by home theater afficionado's for their video quality and ability to run without a cooling fan on the GPU. I had one in my old home theater. The 2d performance is excellent and mpeg dvd decoding in hardware is available. The 3d games performance is very, very 'last decade'. but that doesnt look to matter. Very high refresh rates, high resolutions, etc. Doesnt use shared video ram.

Check to make sure you can disable the onboard video first (probably in the BIOS setup at boot time), and check to see if you have an AGP slot.

I have a 9000 I can ship to you, but you'll probably find one locally for less than the shipping cost.

Whatever you do, if its a 3rd party non-ati produced card (perfectly good, even if its a tiger jambam mark v card), throw away the provided drivers and download and install the latest ATI radeon drivers for the card.
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?
Old 03-23-2006, 01:27 PM   #5
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?

You'll probably get a larger performance boost by reinstalling Windows than by adding more RAM. Half a gig should be plenty, and fancy video cards are only useful for games. If you do want to get some new stuff, I recommend crucial.com. Not the cheapest, but good service and their webpage will tell you exactly what RAM you can get for your PC. (Their site is worth a visit for that alone.)

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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?
Old 03-23-2006, 01:32 PM   #6
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?

What you have is probably a SIS 760 chipset with the "mirage 2" built in graphics. The board does have an 8x AGP slot so all but the very latest PCI express boards should work.

Its performance on 3d games is truly pitiful. To give some perspective, on one benchmark, that chip puts out a 6.6, the very aged ati 9000 I mentioned does a 34, and a top of the line card puts out numbers in the 150-200 and up range...

Another really solid 2d card for video quality, stability, high refreshes, and cheap bargain bit potential is anything older made by Matrox. They were kings of the 2d world for some time. A lot of their cards have a "dual head" capability that allows you to put two monitors on the same card, and show two different desktops at the same time...imagine an excel spreadsheet on one in full size while you reference that to make a post or fill in quicken numbers...
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?
Old 03-23-2006, 02:00 PM   #7
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?


I agree that you don't need an upgrade.

If you do upgrade the memory make sure you do so in a way that retains dual channel support. Check the manual for the motherboard or PC, it's likely that it does support dual channel memory. This requires that you install matched pairs of memory. If you have 2x256 MB sticks it's likely that you are running dual channel. If 1x512, you're not. The memory configurations to enable duall channel can be tricky -- check the manual for the details. If you upgrade to 1GB in a way that disables dual channel your performace may actually go down.

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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?
Old 03-23-2006, 02:05 PM   #8
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cute 'n' Fuzzy Bunny
Going to a real video card, IF your mobo even supports it (is there a different looking 'slot' on the motherboard?), would be good for gaming...and...gaming...you might get a higher refresh rate or a more stable picture, but five bucks says you wouldnt notice the difference side by side unless what you have is really, really pathetically bad and considering its sporting a recent AMD chip...its probably not bad.
I'm with CFB, your current system sounds fine for what you use it for.

That said, one other benefit you get from a separate video card, even a cheap one, is that it will improve the speed of your CPU. Again, this is probably a non-issue unless you find yourself CPU-bound, but most motherboards with on-board graphics use the CPU's memory as video memory. Dual-port RAM is expensive, so the video controller and CPU have to take turns accessing the single-port RAM. The higher the resolution, refresh rate, and color depth you use, the more cycles the video card steals from the CPU to access the shared memory.

Even a cheap video card, as long as it has its own memory, will keep the CPU from having to take turns with the video controller.

In addition to the cycle stealing, sometimes the motherboard has to slow down the RAM to match the speed of the video controller. My motherboard supports DDR400 memory, but when the on-board video is used, that degrades to DDR333, because that's how fast the video card runs. To make matters worse, that DDR333 is now divided between the CPU and the video card. Long story short - and it's possibly too late for that now :P - I added a cheap fanless NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200 and the system benchmarked 30% faster.

But you probably won't notice unless you're doing video, games, or otherwise find yourself at 100% CPU usage and wishing it would go faster.

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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?
Old 03-23-2006, 02:11 PM   #9
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?

And dont forget to keep a glass of water handy to douse that AMD processor if it catches fire, and watch out for the spikes they shoot out sometimes.

And for gods sake dont put it near your head. They go into your ear, attach to your brain and make you buy other substandard stuff.

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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?
Old 03-23-2006, 02:16 PM   #10
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?

A lot of these types of PCs don't have an AGP or PCI Express slot. If not, I'm not sure if putting in a PCI video card will be of any net benefit. If you do have AGP or PCI-X, then I agree don't get the latest and greatest because it will be too noisy and overpriced for the performance difference. Also, the various models of video cards are a minefield of deceptions. They'll have several models that have the same number, but depending on the add-on letters the difference in performance can be an order of magnitude or better. I'm a long-time ATI fan but bought nVidia this last time. I got either a 6600GT or a 6800; at the time it seemed the best bang for the buck and has been quiet. Even that may be overkill as I think it will handle the latest and greatest games. (I don't have the latest and greatest so I don't know for sure.)

RAM was cheap enough last time I looked I wouldn't flinch at throwing another 512mb or 1G in there; whatever the max it will take. You probably don't need it now, but you will sooner or later. I look at crucial.com (their specs for your model are helpful for choosing from other vendors; also their quality is high and prices usually very reasonable), then NewEgg and then a local bargain store (Fry's) and pick a known brand at a decent price. I've bought RAM from Crucial and Fry's; I don't think I actually bought RAM from NewEgg even though I've bought many other things from them.

I could echo the comments that the upgrades probably aren't necessary, but I think people are missing that this is more of a family harmony and kid-educating exercise than a practical optimization.
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?
Old 03-23-2006, 04:14 PM   #11
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?

Hello CFB
What do you have against AMD chips (a glass of water) no problem as long as you cool the correctly a 1.33 doing 2.25

http://www.trip.net/~snichols/water%...0400%20300.jpg
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?
Old 03-23-2006, 04:25 PM   #12
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?

Quote:
Originally Posted by boots
Hello CFB
What do you have against AMD chips (a glass of water) no problem as long as you cool the correctly a 1.33 doing 2.25

http://www.trip.net/~snichols/water%...0400%20300.jpg
Just don't flush in the middle of calculating a huge spreadsheet.
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?
Old 03-23-2006, 05:18 PM   #13
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?

Does anyone download music or play it on the machine? The biggest difference I've seen in my machines with RAM upgrades was in iTunes performance. Much better. I would double the RAM if the machine will take it. It's cheap enough.

I don't know anything abour graphics cards.
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?
Old 03-23-2006, 05:58 PM   #14
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?

Quote:
Originally Posted by boots
Hello CFB
What do you have against AMD chips (a glass of water) no problem as long as you cool the correctly a 1.33 doing 2.25
I'd like them better if they werent responsible for the spread of 43% of the worlds communicable diseases.

And the TEETH on those things.

:P
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?
Old 03-23-2006, 06:19 PM   #15
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?

I dunno...I think if my music program required a gig of ram, I'd get another music program...

http://www.circuitcity.com/ssm/Kingston-Technologies-512MB-DDR-SDRAM-Desktop-Memory-...

512MB PC3200 ram, $24.99 after rebate

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16814153024

Radeon 9000 board with the radeon 9000 laptop mobility chip. $25.99. The mobility chip doesnt have the same oooph as the regular 9000 chip, and you've got to scamp drivers from some OEM for the mobility as ATI doesnt usually offer a full driver set for the mobility chips. Very low power and passively cooled, so one less whiney fan.

Or, if you're in big spender mode

http://www.compusa.com/products/prod...249&pfp=SEARCH

Radeon 9250, a lot faster than the above, actively cooled by fan, more power draw, $39.99 after rebates. Radeon drivers from ATI will work right off their web site.

Just as an aside, in case anyone wonders, I'm suggesting radeon's instead of nvidia chips because while the nvidia chips offer better 3d/price that doesnt look like its going to offer much value to Nords. Most home theater geeks like the radeons for quality of output on screen and tv and for dvd/video playback...which sounds like it might have some value.

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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?
Old 03-23-2006, 06:49 PM   #16
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?

Nords - if you have the "AsusTek Salmon" motherboard you can go here http://h10025.www1.hp.com/ewfrf/wc/g...dlc=en&lang=en for details on it - It is an AMD Socket 754 motherboard with an AGP 8X video connector - The board has a Sis760 system - It is a pretty modern computer with a top-end processor from only a few months ago... but socket 754 is coming to an end and the new high end systems have the 939 pin socket to support faster, dual processors. *AGP is also coming to an end as new video cards use the PCI-Express connectors.

I'll agree with the others above that upgrading will not result in much real improvement in performance, though, and real performance improvements require a new motherboard, processor, and video card. *So... I'd recommend you content yourself with this great state-of-the-art computer and consider other options such as a new scanner or AIO printer, dual layer "LightScribe" DVD burner (prints label while burning), IPod stuff, or TiVo (just got one FAR).

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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?
Old 03-24-2006, 10:16 AM   #17
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cute 'n' Fuzzy Bunny
What you have is probably a SIS 760 chipset with the "mirage 2" built in graphics. The board does have an 8x AGP slot so all but the very latest PCI express boards should work.
You're absolutely right-- I found that buried in the BeLarc numbers.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cute 'n' Fuzzy Bunny
Very low power and passively cooled, so one less whiney fan.
Radeon 9250, a lot faster than the above, actively cooled by fan, more power draw, $39.99 after rebates. Radeon drivers from ATI will work right off their web site.
Excellent links, thanks. Considering my history with big cooling loads, I'm going to go with a card that doesn't add to the load on the power supply or the box's cooling (or the familyroom noise).

The previous machine had a bad power supply (probably burned out by my running three hard drives off a 300W ATX) which I fixed and then gave to my FIL. During post-installation testing at his house we also discovered that it had a bad motherboard or CPU problem, probably caused by overheating, which of course simultaneously cratered my credibility and drove my FIL back to his Win98 machine muttering about "them newfangled computers"... sigh. But that's an entirely different thread.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnP
Nords - if you have the "AsusTek Salmon" motherboard you can go here http://h10025.www1.hp.com/ewfrf/wc/g...dlc=en&lang=en for details on it - It is an AMD Socket 754 motherboard with an AGP 8X video connector - The board has a Sis760 system - It is a pretty modern computer with a top-end processor from only a few months ago... but socket 754 is coming to an end and the new high end systems have the 939 pin socket to support faster, dual processors. *AGP is also coming to an end as new video cards use the PCI-Express connectors.
I'll agree with the others above that upgrading will not result in much real improvement in performance, though, and real performance improvements require a new motherboard, processor, and video card. *So... I'd recommend you content yourself with this great state-of-the-art computer and consider other options such as a new scanner or AIO printer, dual layer "LightScribe" DVD burner (prints label while burning), IPod stuff, or TiVo (just got one FAR).
Considering our usage I think we're gonna go with the RAM and the video card. I agree that they're marginal incremental improvements but for a hundred bucks the whining user feedback will stop and the kid will learn how to crack a box.

Considering what a teenager's homework assignments can do to the cost of owning a scanner & color printer, the RAM/video is a pittance. I shudder to think what she'd do with a LightScribe. I'm truly blissful when my kid's ignorant of some consumer technologies...

Thanks for all the help, everyone. This really sorted out the thinking and reduced the shopping confusion. I'll get right on this as soon as I finish our taxes and another project...
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?
Old 03-24-2006, 10:47 AM   #18
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?

Cheap power supplies usually wont do what they're rated on a sustained basis, maybe a power on surge for a short period of time. And they can weaken over time when faced with an overload. Even fairly pricey power supplies can fail to sustain their stated rating.

Pc power and cooling, fotron, antec and enermax make some decent ones. Look for 'best power supplies' to get plenty of shootouts and reviews where the rubber met the road.

If I have a chance later, i'll look for a passively cooled true 9000 based card rather than that mobility one. Should be a 20-25 dollar card around somewhere.
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?
Old 03-24-2006, 02:28 PM   #19
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?

I learned about cheap power supplies the hard way.

Socket 754 => single channel memory controller. No need for matched pairs of memory

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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?
Old 03-25-2006, 03:30 AM   #20
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Re: Video & RAM upgrade?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cute 'n' Fuzzy Bunny
512MB is enough for what you're doing.* Onboard video is fine for what you do.
The easiest way to tell if 512MB is enough is to see if your system is swapping. Open up task manager, and take a look at your Peak Commit Charge after a long period of use. If the Peak is higher than the Total Physical Memory, then you're swapping, and more RAM will help. Otherwise, don't bother.

If you're not playing 3D games, the only reasons to buy a new video card would be hardware acceleration for DVD playback (nVidia has a good codec for their cards) or to drive a higher-resolution display (or multiple displays). Otherwise, don't bother.

If you have a couple hundred bucks burning a hole in your pocket, I would invest in a great keyboard, great mouse, and maybe a large fast hard drive. Those will give you improvements you'll appreciate every day.
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